Access to Capital Remains a Vital Issue for Underserved Business Communities — Asir Justifus, Tech Entrepreneur

Minority and women-owned businesses have been historically undervalued by the investment community and that lack of access to investment capital has limited the opportunities for growth by these traditionally underserved businesses. On this week’s episode of The Playbook, host Mark Collier, area director for the UGA Small Business Development Center, sits down with Asir Justifus, a serial entrepreneur since 2004 who has launched multiple IT startups and logistics ventures.

In 2015, one of his ventures went through a Crowd Funding exercise and raised $500K. Later in 2018, it attracted an angel investor from Buckhead called Rule 1 Ventures. Justifus’ latest venture is SART, a Marketing and Sales Accelerator investing in market-ready products. He has also recently completed a book called Parallel Entrepreneurship Journey.

Transcription:

Mark Collier:
Welcome into The Playbook, Justi.

Asir Justifus:
Hello, Mark. How are you?

Mark Collier:
All right. Well, very good. Well, listen, great introduction, great information. You are what they call the quintessential serial entrepreneur.

Asir Justifus:
Thank you.

Mark Collier:
So we’d love to learn a lot from you. But before we launch into that, kind of give me a little bit about your background, where you grew up and how you landed here in the United States?

Asir Justifus:
Awesome. Love to do that.

Mark Collier:
All right.

Asir Justifus:
I’m from India, South India.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
First half of my life, 24 years I spent in India.

Mark Collier:
All right.

Asir Justifus:
I’m from a small town, little town, a village in southern part of India. Did my computer science degree there.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
Worked there for around six years.

Mark Collier:
All right.

Asir Justifus:
And then, 2018 I landed in America.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
As a software consultant.

Mark Collier:
Very good.

Asir Justifus:
And ever since I have been in the business of providing information technology services. And then since I had some passion about entrepreneurship.

Mark Collier:
Yep.

Asir Justifus:
I picked up entrepreneurship from year 2004.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
It’s been a journey. That is a little background about me. I live in Johns Creek here.

Mark Collier:
All right.

Asir Justifus:
I have a wife and two kids.

Mark Collier:
All right. So entrepreneurship was always in your blood, huh?

Asir Justifus:
Yes.

Mark Collier:
All right. So kind of what made you an entrepreneur?

Asir Justifus:
It’s a great question. I have covered that in my book, but I will try to make it as short and crisp as possible.

Mark Collier:
Please.

Asir Justifus:
From my childhood, I have seen job plays a major role in everybody’s life.

Mark Collier:
Oh yeah. Absolutely.

Asir Justifus:
Especially from a small town I came from.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
It’s very important. Everybody kept insisting that I should study well. Find a job and then a stable job.

Mark Collier:
Right.

Asir Justifus:
So that I can lead a better life. However, I kept asking myself and then others.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
Who creates these jobs?

Mark Collier:
Yeah.

Asir Justifus:
If you want stable jobs there should be more companies or businesses.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Asir Justifus:
How do you create? I ask those questions. Many people couldn’t give me an answer. So that is where I started knowing the importance of it.

Mark Collier:
Yep.

Asir Justifus:
And then when I did through many journeys.

Mark Collier:
Right.

Asir Justifus:
Every time I learned a lot. And that is when I figured out that not that many people step into entrepreneurship and then create companies and enterprises.

Mark Collier:
No.

Asir Justifus:
So I thought I should in my lifetime, I should do something. And then that is why I’m sitting here today.

Mark Collier:
Okay. Well, I mean, you have the education, you have the background, you have the drive.

Asir Justifus:
Yes.

Mark Collier:
And as you well put, a lot of people don’t have those types of things. Who are willing to step into that entrepreneurship space because it’s an unknown. When you’re working a job you know you get that paycheck every two weeks. Not the same way when you start your own business.

Asir Justifus:
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Mark Collier:
All right. Yeah. So you wrote a book on entrepreneurship. First of all, you can share with me the title of the book and why you wrote the book.

Asir Justifus:
Yes. The title of the book is Parallel Entrepreneurship Journey.

Mark Collier:
Parallel Entrepreneurship Journey.

Asir Justifus:
Yes.

Mark Collier:
All right. I like that. So give me a little back story on how that title came to be.

Asir Justifus:
Yeah. Most of the time, as I said, the term entrepreneurship itself is not clear to many people.

Mark Collier:
True.

Asir Justifus:
And then when they talk about entrepreneurship, you hear serial entrepreneurship.

Mark Collier:
Yes, you do.

Asir Justifus:
Right?

Mark Collier:
Yes, you do.

Asir Justifus:
You create one company you exit from that company.

Mark Collier:
Right.

Asir Justifus:
Go and then create another company. That is not nice to hear.

Mark Collier:
Yes.

Asir Justifus:
However, a lot of things happen behind the scenes. Right?

Mark Collier:
Yeah.

Asir Justifus:
So in reality, when you are an entrepreneurship. Most of the time. Not everybody.

Mark Collier:
Right.

Asir Justifus:
You would be doing something in parallel.

Mark Collier:
Oh yeah.

Asir Justifus:
It would be forced.

Mark Collier:
That’s a good point. Good point.

Asir Justifus:
Right. So then why you are doing that? You have to have the safety net. You have to right now take care of right now your family and then other things.

Mark Collier:
That’s right.

Asir Justifus:
That is where I felt like this topic is a little sensitive topic.

Mark Collier:
Sure.

Asir Justifus:
Why don’t I… I did some Googling.

Mark Collier:
Right.

Asir Justifus:
And find out what is really parallel entrepreneurship. How many people are doing? How many books are there?

Mark Collier:
Right.

Asir Justifus:
So how many resources are there?

Mark Collier:
Right.

Asir Justifus:
So there were very limited amount of resources. That is when, again, I thought, why don’t I right now start writing about it.

Mark Collier:
Right.

Asir Justifus:
Another important reason is, right from my childhood, as I said, I have been observing a lot. There were so many incidents or events that gave me the sense of purpose.

Mark Collier:
Yes.

Asir Justifus:
So every time I get up in the morning, I know these kind of events goes through. I’m very thankful of all those things.

Mark Collier:
Yeah.

Asir Justifus:
I thought before I get too old, I don’t forget some of those incidents. Why don’t I register and then also share with other people?

Mark Collier:
You brought a very important point. When the overwhelming majority of people who start a business, they’re already doing something else. So it is indeed a parallel journey. Maybe they’re working a job, maybe they have another business which is kind of cash flowing them until this new business of theirs starts to produce cash flow. But you’re right, a lot of parallel experiences happen in the entrepreneurship journey. And so I think your book is going to be very well received and helping people navigate through those two worlds.

Asir Justifus:
Yeah. One more thing is it is about the legality of it. Right?

Mark Collier:
Yes.

Asir Justifus:
So when you are doing parallel work. Right now.

Mark Collier:
Yeah.

Asir Justifus:
It may be a contracting gig. Right?

Mark Collier:
Right.

Asir Justifus:
But then as an entrepreneur you have a vision, then you are trying to do something in parallel.

Mark Collier:
Yep.

Asir Justifus:
The legalities of it. And then conflict of interest and all those things. Right?

Mark Collier:
Oh yeah. Right.

Asir Justifus:
It is clear then you could do things without hurting yourself.

Mark Collier:
Sure.

Asir Justifus:
So that is why I thought that this is very important.

Mark Collier:
Okay. Well, very good. I think you’ve hit on a very important topic. So…

Asir Justifus:
Thank you.

Mark Collier:
All right. You talk about another term called be positive. So kind of lets… Define that for me and why do you play such a high emphasis on it?

Asir Justifus:
Yeah. The title of the book, I have put that be positive also.

Mark Collier:
Okay. So that’s kind of a subtitle?

Asir Justifus:
Exactly.

Mark Collier:
All right.

Asir Justifus:
Again, the reason is that it may sound little philosophical. But let me get to the bottom of it.

Mark Collier:
All right.

Asir Justifus:
In our world right now, we hear about lot of negativity.

Mark Collier:
Yes, we do.

Asir Justifus:
Every day. Right?

Mark Collier:
Yes, we do.

Asir Justifus:
In various forms. And we sometimes get sidetracked, distracted.

Mark Collier:
Or overwhelmed sometimes too.

Asir Justifus:
Exactly. So as a person, as an individual and as an entrepreneur. Right. If you keep on consuming those negative energy.

Mark Collier:
Sure.

Asir Justifus:
Your actions will be sometimes limited. Okay.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
So sorry to say that. Not being very generic. But-

Mark Collier:
Right.

Asir Justifus:
And when I was looking again, right now, when I’m in such kind of situation, I look around.

Mark Collier:
Yeah.

Asir Justifus:
I observe.

Mark Collier:
Yeah.

Asir Justifus:
I read.

Mark Collier:
Right.

Asir Justifus:
I reach out to my folks. Right. And then that time also, I figured out that in order for us to work on certain obstacles or challenges or even to accomplish our goals, you need lot of positive energy.

Mark Collier:
Yes, you do.

Asir Justifus:
But you are surrounded by so much negativity.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
So how do we scan through that? Social media helped me a lot.

Mark Collier:
Good. Good.

Asir Justifus:
And then through that, one of the police officer I admire called Sam from my hometown.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
Even though he is a police officer, he does lot of social activities in a positive way.

Mark Collier:
Excellent.

Asir Justifus:
And then having a positive impact on young people.

Mark Collier:
Good.

Asir Justifus:
Right. So I have been following him. One day he said, “Since, I’m organizing a blood donation drive.”

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
“Everyone please add your blood group right next to your name. So that if I’m looking for B-positive or O-positive.” Right?

Mark Collier:
Right.

Asir Justifus:
The blood. “I could find out who is right now there and then who is nearby.” So for that purpose he has to register the blood group.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
That day I thought my blood group is be B-positive. I’m already B-positive, so why don’t I put my name man right now with the blood group-

Mark Collier:
I like that.

Asir Justifus:
Till date, I’m following that. That is where many time people ask me, just first be positive. Right. I’m looking for some positivity. Why you are not posting anything?

Mark Collier:
All right.

Asir Justifus:
So that kind of impact I got. That is the quick response.

Mark Collier:
Quick response. Well, I like that. I mean, so it’s a twofold process. It started out with a blood groove and it kind of evolved to a whole philosophy of just B-positive out here.

Asir Justifus:
Yes.

Mark Collier:
I like it. Like it a lot. All right. So from serial entrepreneurship to writing a book, and you’ve also started to venture down the road of venture capitalist.

Asir Justifus:
Yes.

Mark Collier:
What kind of made you decide to take that road? What about the venture capital space is intriguing to you?

Asir Justifus:
Sure. I would admit that I never thought about starting a venture capital company.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
I thought I will have my company run it like Microsoft or Google. Right?

Mark Collier:
Sure.

Asir Justifus:
Make it big. And then right now that would my retirement plan.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
However, that journey also right now helped me to understand certain things.

Mark Collier:
Got it.

Asir Justifus:
So you need to raise capital. During your introduction, you covered right now I have done crowd funding. I have been to venture capital.

Mark Collier:
Yep.

Asir Justifus:
So when you go through that route certain times you have to give up certain…

Mark Collier:
Yes. You do.

Asir Justifus:
Certain responsibilities.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Asir Justifus:
And right now you may not accomplish what you really wanted to do.

Mark Collier:
Sure.

Asir Justifus:
So I did not stop there.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
With that experience I told my investment group, hey, let me be a minority one in that company.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
And then I have a bigger plan. And then since I have raised capital from friends and family.

Mark Collier:
Sure.

Asir Justifus:
Crowd funding and all. I am not afraid of asking money.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Asir Justifus:
But now I have a bigger plan. I want to create right now entrepreneurship spirit in the community where I am.

Mark Collier:
Very good.

Asir Justifus:
So that is one way of giving back to the community where I come from.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
And for that I need money.

Mark Collier:
There you go.

Asir Justifus:
So we need money. Either I should have a major exit.

Mark Collier:
Right.

Asir Justifus:
Or I start a venture capital. Show this experience, leverage this experience. And then bring more right now my venture capital money.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
And then support more-

Mark Collier:
More businesses-

Asir Justifus:
More businesses.

Mark Collier:
I like it. Venture capital space is very much needed. I mean, especially with growing companies or new companies. The access to capital through traditional banking sources is difficult.

Asir Justifus:
Yes.

Mark Collier:
So the venture capital and angel investors, they feel a very important void there.

Asir Justifus:
Exactly. Exactly. So if you go through the traditional route. Right?

Mark Collier:
Yep.

Asir Justifus:
So you need to show revenue. Without revenue banks are not going to give you money.

Mark Collier:
No. You’re right.

Asir Justifus:
And then right now, that is where the early stage venture capital right now which I will cover a little later. If you give me opportunity.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
How it works.

Mark Collier:
All right. Well, very good. All right. So you’re also involved in other roles. The Indo American Chamber of Commerce. I know you play an active role as board of directors there. Global IT and Roswell Rotary Clubs. So how do you kind of balance all those different roles, Justi?

Asir Justifus:
Sure. Results and human connections are very important.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Asir Justifus:
When you are running a venture capital or even as an entrepreneur.

Mark Collier:
Yep.

Asir Justifus:
We have invested in three product companies so far.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
One is a unicorn coming up called Settled.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
And another one is Global Transportation Logistics Marketplace called Tracker GIG.

Mark Collier:
Fantastic.

Asir Justifus:
And then an innovative internet of humans based recruitment right now company called Talent Turbo. So these three are the portfolio companies.

Mark Collier:
All right.

Asir Justifus:
Imagine when I am running these portfolio companies, I need connections.

Mark Collier:
Yes, you do.

Asir Justifus:
The people who can… Potential customers. So many ways I need connections.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
So for that Indo American Chamber, I’m sitting here because of the great job done by Dr. Charan. And then he introduced to you.

Mark Collier:
Yes.

Asir Justifus:
And then now I’m sitting here like this Rotary Club.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Asir Justifus:
So I love to meet people. So these organizations are doing a tremendous job.

Mark Collier:
Okay. Well, the bottom line I think, and I think you agree with me this Justi is relationships.

Asir Justifus:
Yes.

Mark Collier:
Play a huge role in business.

Asir Justifus:
Yep.

Mark Collier:
Because people do business with people who they know like and trust.

Asir Justifus:
Yes.

Mark Collier:
So… All right. I’ll see you Justifus. Serial entrepreneur and a recent author. I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to come in. We will scroll your book down here at the bottom of the screen and look forward to having you come in and talk more about the small businesses that you’ve invested in because I want to hear about their growth in the future.

Asir Justifus:
Sure. Thank you. Thank you, Mark.

Mark Collier:
All right. Very good.


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